Finnish Shyness


Debunking the Myths and the Stereotypes We Have of Finnish People

What do you know about Finnish stereotypes? Have you heard that they don't smile? Or that they keep to themselves? Or maybe you've heard that they're incredibly shy. Like any culture, there are plenty of stereotypes that foreigners establish when they visit, and while many of them are wrong, there are a few things about Finnish shyness that can be true. Living in Finland has taught me a lot about Finnish shyness. And although Finns are hesitant to strike up a conversation with a random stranger, they are not as shy as we make them out to be.

There's a popular cartoon called Finnish Nightmares by Karoliina Korhonen which depicts a typical Finn named Matti and his struggles through daily life. Most of the time his struggles include avoiding asking questions or for directions, not making a scene of himself, and not standing too close to anyone. Through these scenes, us foreigners gain a hilarious insight into the daily struggles of Finnish shyness. From standing in his apartment waiting for his neighbor to leave so he doesn't have to awkwardly interact with them to not sitting next to anyone on the tram even if there are open seats, Matti, like many Finns, finds creative ways to avoid conversations with strangers or drawing any attention to himself.

So are Finns really like this? Just like any stereotype, there's always someone who fits the mold perfectly and there are ones that don't fit at all. I've come across Finns who avoid eye contact, refuse to sit next to a stranger, or barely say hi to their neighbor. Then I meet some Finns who will strike up a conversation with you on the tram or in the laundry room. It's always a mix of whom you're going to meet. What I've noticed is that those from the north tend to be much more quiet, but those who have lived abroad or are Swedish-Finns are much more talkative. They're the ones that will chat with you for the entire tram ride without you having to make an effort to talk.

But none of this means that Finns avoid people like the plague. Just because they don't want to strike up a conversation doesn't mean that they're against you talking to them. I've asked many for help and directions and everyone is always incredibly friendly and helpful. So I guess they're like me: too shy to make the first move but more than willing to partake if someone else makes the effort. This must be why I love the country so much; I don't feel bad for being shy!!

So how do you get them talking? Well the joke goes is that if you get a Finn drunk they will open up and talk your ear off. And I want to say this isn't true, but after going out with a few Finnish friends, the real quiet ones, they opened up about everything, including how much they loved me! Then they proceeded to keep hugging me throughout the night. So I guess with a little alcohol they become different people sometimes, but don't we all? But another way to get them talking is to be patient and become their friend. Once you get to know them, they will be more than happy to have conversations with you and spend time with you. 

Just don't be surprised if there are moments of complete silence. Finns are much more comfortable with silence than we are. Silence for them is a good thing because it means that you're enjoying the moment, that you're reflecting on what was being discussed, and it is not at all perceived as awkward. So I guess that's where us foreigners think of Finnish shyness as awkward; we don't know how to sit in silence, so we feel awkward. But once you embrace it, it is a great experience.

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  1. To be honest I didn't know this stereotype about Finnish, maybe because I don't often encounter one. In fact I don't think I've met anyone personally. If this cartoon exists then maybe these people are indeed generally reserved. I think there's nothing with it, we are all different, and as you mentioned, there are people there who do know how to interact.

  2. I never knew about the reserved or shy nature of Finnish. In fact I have a friend who is quite talkative and open. The cartoon is really interesting and your post too. And your are right there are every type of people. Sometimes you need to be their friend to make them comfortable


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